Saturday, March 28, 2009

Songs for Expressing Sorrow

I think it's because Unitarian Universalism has given me a whole new lens to look at sadness through, but UU hymns tend to be more helpful in giving me hope and direction, rather than expressing my sorrow. After reading Lizard Eater's post today and Yet Another UU's post earlier, I commented on YAUU that the songs I sing when I'm really really sad are old Baptist hymns: Great is Thy Faithfulness, the Old Rugged Cross, How Great Thou Art, that sort of thing.

The greatest sorrows in my life so far have been the deaths of my parents; no other loss has shaken me so deeply. And though I have joy and hope because of their lives, there is still sorrow in me when I think of them and the experience of losing them.

It would be unthinkable to sing anything but songs that remind me of them, hymns they loved, lullabyes they sang, rhymes they chanted for me. In our home, we had beautiful music and it all tended to be sacred music---not praise songs like the ones that are often sung in evangelical congregations but the biggies like The Messiah and Bach oratorios. Not Mozart masses, that I recall, but music out of the Reformation and other Protestant sources, including those old hymns.

Recently I had the experience of sitting with a woman who was dying, and the song that came to my mind, though I didn't sing it to her, not knowing whether it would fit for her, was a lullaby that my mother sang to me and that I sang to the FS: "Mama's darling, Daddy's sweetheart, Jesus' precious little lamb; how we love her, how we love her, how we love our Betsy girl (or Michael boy, in the FS's case)". It makes me miss my parents right now and brings tears of sadness but also joy that a simple song can bring them back for a moment.

That's the thing about sadness: joy may be right behind it. Through my parents' deaths, I learned not to postpone or avoid sadness but to live through it, let it own me for awhile, for as long as I needed it. That pain has become a treasured keepsake, brought out now on such occasions as warrant it.

I don't know what I'd sing if anything ever happened to the FS. Not old Baptist hymns, I suspect. Maybe some of the songs he used to enjoy at Youth Cons. Naw, probably not. And I don't know the kind of music he likes now. Oh, wait, no, I can't believe I'd sing that stuff. No, no....... but maybe, since laughter and tears are so closely connected. You aren't going to believe...but then, it is typical of the FS, at least as a teenager. Here's what would probably bring me to tears, if I heard them: Eat It, Like a Surgeon, Dare to Be Stupid. You get the picture: Weird Al stuff. Sorry, FS. If you want to change my sorrow songs, better help me find better material!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Max the Murderous: a poem adaptation

I mentioned in an earlier post that I liked William Blake and Robin came up with a poem adaptation in honor of Maxie the Murderous:

Max The Murderous, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Max The Murderous, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

(adapted by Robin Edgar)

Thanks, Robin. Max thanks you as well. When we went out this morning to get the paper, Max was hesitant and when I got out there, I saw why: two deer were lingering in the yard. But your poem reminds him that his fearful symmetry is more threatening than theirs, though they do have those sharp hooves. He wisely disappeared into the bushes. I love the Blake line "did He who make the lamb make thee?" Only in Max's case, it would be "did He who make the mole rat make thee?", as that's more the sort of creatures that end up dismembered on the deck.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Every Night and Every Morn...

Every night and every morn, some to misery are born;
Every morn and every night some are born to sweet delight.
Joy and woe are woven fine, clothing for the soul divine;
Under every grief and pine runs a joy with silken twine.
It is right it should be so: we were made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know, safely through the world we go.

This is a hymn (#17) by William Blake that we don't often sing, at least in my congregation. Its oldfashioned language cloaks a paradox that is sometimes hard to face or articulate. We prefer to remember the joy and avert our eyes from the pain.

I am remembering this hymn today and singing it in memory of our congregant, Marilyn Saunders, who died last night in a hospice bed in Coupeville WA. May her generous and loving spirit remain with us, as well as her feisty honesty and courageous heart.

Several of us were able to sit in vigil with Marilyn's body for a time last night. We lit a flame in honor of her generous and loving life, shared our memories of our times with her, anointed her with water from our congregation's gathered waters, and said goodbye to her physical self.

Her pain is gone. She is at peace. We celebrate the gifts she brought to our lives and to the world.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I can't resist...

posting a link to the South Whidbey Record's article about our building dedication: click here.

And behind the scenes of great joy...

there is always something else going on. I have just finished typing up and printing out four copies of a sign-in sheet to be posted on the door of a woman in our congregation who is in hospice care at a nearby nursing home.

During the last several days of the run-up to the dedication service on Sunday, we learned that this woman, very active in our congregation, creative, strong, her cancer on hiatus it seemed, was not really sick with the flu, as we had all thought and as she had thought too. Instead, she is dying of something we had all hoped she'd beaten.

We have tried to keep all the plates in the air, managing everything that needed to be managed: sitting with her quietly, helping her son with his last visit, arranging for refreshments for the visiting clergy at the dedication, soothing ruffled feelings about one issue or another, communicating with her health care advocate about her last wishes, running interference with nursing home staff and congregants who want to visit, writing thank you notes to dignitaries who spoke at the dedication, saying goodbye to our departing DRE and hello to our new DRE, finding a custodian AGAIN, inviting young adults to a first gathering, newsletter deadlines, greeting visitors, finding a way to manage the many friends who arrive in clumps and want to visit our member.

And so the signup sheets, a prosaic way of dealing with the last days of a friend's life. "Visits are limited to one hour; please do not try to converse with ___; just sit quietly and be present with her; thank you for understanding." I print them out, find a decent pen to attach, put them with my stuff to take on a string of pastoral visits. Four should be more than enough.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Countdown, Blastoff, Reentry

Friday morning: pastor friend in the lectionary group asks fellow members "what should I say at the UU building dedication?" ideas ensue, a few actually might work.
Friday afternoon: polish polish polish the reflection. revise again. reprint. give up on it for now. go back to Facebook, waste time.
Friday night: go have a beer, eat Mexican, watch mindless movie.

Saturday morning: wife of worship leader for morning service informs me that hubby is ill with flu, can't take part Sunday morning. will send me all his stuff. can I find another worship leader? but he was going to be half the sermon Sunday morning, since I didn't want to write a full one. now what? desperate emails and calls. blessing! experienced worship leader steps in to help out. whew. crisis averted.
Saturday afternoon: review review review. what have we forgotten? omg, a gift for the speaker! hustle over to the local drugstore for whidbey island stuff. must be packable. t-shirt with lighthouse looks good. wrap wrap wrap in the only stuff i seem to have anymore that's not xmas-related. not ugly at least. toss in copy of uucwi history booklet. worry worry worry---will she know how to get here? watch for frantic emails from speaker. none yet.
Saturday night: go have wine, eat salmon, chat with other uucwiers at March circle dinner. sleep toss sleep toss throw cats out of room sleep toss.

Sunday morning: butterflies. breakfast. show up at church early to discover that the room is set up for the dedication but not quite right for regular church. move change move change forget to turn on sound system. substitute worship leader steps to mic. can't be heard. fiddle fiddle fiddle. problem solved. I step to mic, out of focus, too much focus on dedication not enough on regular worship. quiver quiver quiver. children's conversation wobbles but manages. service improves. people love being asked about sacred space. service over. go home, collapse briefly.
Sunday afternoon: go back to church at 2ish, set up robing room for visiting clergy. food: bananas, grapes, cheese, cider. hungry hungry hungry. munch grapes. practice the anthem with the choir. I am so not a soprano but manage not to mangle the piece. folks start arriving. greet greet greet hug hug hug surprise surprise surprise---people I did not expect to see. folks I expect to see do not arrive. what to do? coach marshall about lining people up. people line up. choral prelude starts. prez and student min hustle back down to the foyer to take part in the processional. all rise to sing "For All the Saints".
Service: no glitches? well, one greeter (county commish) arrives late, has to leave early. oh well. choir shines, roof raised, speakers eloquent, challenging, admiring. Gini phenomenal even with a cold and fever. act of dedication beautiful (thank you Lori for the ideas), prez shines. history of uucwi tenderly presented by author of uucwi history book. my feet firmly planted, no quivers, no worries, no bobbles of importance. chalice gleams. faces aglow. choir director thankful. historian thankful. prez thankful. student minister thankful. me ecstatic.
After-service: clean clean clean. lug lug lug. move move move. tote tote tote. who wants to go to China City? eight of us show up at CC, too tired and exhilarated to do anything but rave about the service and how glad we are it's over. inexplicably one person has the energy to query the group about workshops we'd like to see at the next annual general meeting. we actually have good ideas, despite the weariness.
After China City: go home in rain. max wants to go out. I have no resistance. will I be awake waiting for him all night? max comes back in soaked. fall in bed. startled awake by loosy jumping on bed. throw all cats out. toss turn sleep. 5 a.m. monday, scratch, scratch, scratch. you know what happens next.

Seriously though: in the afterglow of the service I comment to our district exec about what I hope has happened to our congregation because of the dedication service. We had 20 or so ministers, a few DREs, many members of other congregations---all off-island---come to the service. We had a real processional and recessional to some of the most joyful hymns in the book, with ministers decked out in their robes and stoles. We had one of the very best speakers in the UUA, Gini Courter, as preacher. All these people came to wish us well, admire our handiwork, get to know us a little better, and eat our food, drink our wine, slurp up the cake.

It would be hard to walk away from an experience like that without the recognition that our little congregation really matters to others in this faith. Others take inspiration from our achievement. Others hear our commitment to loving social justice action and see that we care about the same things they do. And we ourselves see that we are part of a larger movement, that we belong to these people as well, not just those who attend Sunday mornings with us. That these folks are new friends and that we can see them again when we attend district events. That we have a place in UU history, not just our own little history book.

And it's over. done with. finished. except in our hearts.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

And don't expect this out of us...

(Thanks to Kari of ChaliceSpark)

The Big Weekend

I woke up early this morning, about quarter to five, even though the cats were quiet and not yet insistent that it was breakfast time. And as I lay there wondering if I could go back to sleep for the half hour or so more that I normally need, the excitement of this weekend began to build up in me and eventually I decided to get up, feed the cats, and get started on this big weekend.

I haven't said much about it yet, but Sunday afternoon we are dedicating our new building in a bang-up ceremony that includes visiting dignitaries from the PNW district, local county commissioners and even the mayor of Langley. I feel very honored that several pastors from the lectionary group will attend; I invited one of them to bring greetings from the group during the service and he consulted the others yesterday about what he should say. I was thrilled.

Our dedication speaker will be Gini Courter, moderator of the UUA board who conducts the business sessions at General Assembly AND my real friend, not just on Facebook. Lest this sound incredibly pedantic, to have a moderator and purveyor of Roberts Rules as our speaker, I assure you that Gini is a wonderful, lively, engaging speaker, and I suspect her sermon will knock our socks off.

The planning that has gone into this dedication service has been extensive and yet I'm sure we will encounter some bobbles in the execution of the plan. That's just the way things go. A wise colleague once said to me, as I was contemplating ministry, "Expect three things to go wrong in any given worship service; that's just the way it is. Continue to be a non-anxious presence." Or something like that. It gave me hope then and gives me hope now.

What I am really hoping for, in this building dedication service, is that my congregation, my dear, dear friends in UUism on Whidbey Island (and they are my friends, in a very special kind of way), will see themselves as part of a larger movement, with responsibilities and opportunities that are unique to our setting, our community culture, and that we have support and encouragement from many sources. I hope they see how important this is, as a community of faith, to celebrate together with many others, to proclaim to many others the ideals and promise of Unitarian Universalism.

I hope we have standing room only. I hope folks are dazzled by the array of vestments and flowers and music and people who crowd the room, who process down the aisle to the strains of "For All the Saints" and recess at the end to "Forward Through the Ages". I hope they take seriously the meaning of the hymn "Let Nothing Evil Cross This Door". I hope they love Gini's wonderful humor and piercing message. I hope they come away with a sense of purpose and community that is so firmly entrenched that it never leaves them.

And one more thing. We got our final occupancy permit just last week. We were sweating it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Compassion and Difficult People

I used to read eagerly the magazine and newspaper articles that advised how to get along with difficult people, how to remove them from one's life, how to discourage them from harassing oneself, how to come to terms with them if they were relatives or parents or spouse, that sort of thing. After awhile I quit reading those articles because none of them ever offered the answer I wanted to find: how to love them despite not liking them.

This is a question that people often ask me: how do I love so and so when I don't even like him/her? In my first pastorate, we had a loyal but very difficult person whose presence in the congregation galled nearly everyone. S/he hogged the microphone at joys and concerns every Sunday. S/he had ideas that nobody felt would work. S/he wanted to run certain committees. S/he had an insatiable need for attention. S/he was eccentric to the point of irrationality. And on and on.

And s/he loved us. S/he didn't realize that others didn't like him/her; s/he was not socially perceptive enough to see that s/he rubbed people wrong. And s/he loved us. S/he gave generously to the congregation's budget, freely gave of time and energy, helped out wherever help was needed, all the time irritating and annoying people with his/her eccentricities and neediness. And all the time, s/he loved us, even though few loved him/her.

There were mitigating factors---a difficult past, an accident or illness---but none of it seemed to excuse the constant annoyance of his/her presence. During our first year together, six different congregants came to ask me that question: how do you love someone you don't even like?

I wondered too, because this person was also a problem for me. But the situation came to a head one day when the Annoyer was publicly shouted down by the Annoyed in a meeting and I realized that as the minister I'd better figure out an answer to the question and offer some kind of guidance.

That situation is long in the past now and I'm pleased to note that it did resolve itself in a better way. I asked people to be honest and kind with the Annoyer and promised them that I would develop a relationship with him/her that would allow me to tell him/her hard things in a loving way. Gradually things improved and people did find love growing. But it was hard. It was so clear that even though we did not love him/her, s/he loved us; that puts an obligation on the loved ones, to be as kind as possible, and this ethic was not lost on the Annoyed.

It may have been that ethic that made people more compassionate, the knowledge that when someone loves us, we must return love in the best way we can, even when it's hard, even when we do not feel kindly.

In every congregation, there are people like the Annoyer. They love us but drive us crazy at the same time. They may be hard to be around, offer suggestions that seem offbase, want to run things, say hurtful things occasionally in the name of honesty, but they love us. As we get to know them better and better and understand their loneliness or their difficult past, we may find compassion growing and a certain oddball kind of love that keeps us hanging in there together, offering help when times are tough, seeing the value in the friendship even when we're angry. Because they love us.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Disparate Housewives: a sermon preached at Woodinville UUC

DISPARATE HOUSEWIVES: how feminism has changed religion
Rev. Kit Ketcham, March 2009
Feminism has had a profound effect on religious thinking and practice over the past century and I am the recipient of encouragement fostered by this sea change in religious life.

But I was slow to become a feminist. It took me a long time to realize that I too was affected by the prevailing social climate of sexism and lack of opportunity for women. I think I was slow because I was lucky. I grew up encouraged by my parents---AND profoundly and positively affected by the work of a noted 19th century woman author. I suspect that some of you here today were also similarly affected!

When I was a girl, I was such a tomboy that my mother despaired of teaching me anything but the barest social graces. I wanted a horse so badly that I entered every contest that appeared on the radio--Roy Rogers was giving away Trigger’s foal as a prize for the best answer in 25 words or less? I sent in several entries just to be sure.

When no horse was forthcoming from that competition, I entered another and another. There was no discouraging me, and eventually, when we moved to Athena, a rancher in my father’s congregation loaned me horses to ride every summer, first, “Dan”, an elderly Thoroughbred, and then “Prince”, an immense, phlegmatic bay gelding.

Dan and Prince were my ticket to independence, and my life of solitary rambles across Umatilla County stubble fields resembled, in my pre-teen mind, those of Josephine March, the dauntless heroine of the novels of Louisa May Alcott. As Jo March roamed the Massachusetts countryside, so I roamed those eastern Oregon roads and plains.

I read whatever I could find by Louisa May Alcott during those pre-teen years, every book of the Little Women series, anyhow, reassured that if Jo March could be a tomboy and get into scrapes and adventures and turn out all right, then I, Betsy Ketcham, could too.

Marriage and family didn’t sound like a lot of fun to me at age 11, but if Jo March could do it--especially if she got to play with the boys--then it’d probably turn out okay for me too. Jo March was one of my guiding lights as a pre-teen; her behavior, though not exactly feminine by my mother’s standards, was kind and loving and productive.

Louisa May Alcott’s heroines were courageous and bold, strong of character and able to withstand terrible loss, at the same time uttering sound advice to fragile hothouse flowers who swooned at the sight of blood and batted their eyelashes at the heroes. My prepubescent soul swelled at the ideas I was offered by this more than one hundred year old woman, who seemed to know just what I, a young 1950’s era girl, needed to hear.

Whether it was Louisa May or my parents’ encouragement or my own rebellious spirit, I grew up knowing it was okay to be a tomboy, okay to do well in school, okay not to have a boyfriend (well, sort of okay--hormones hit me pretty hard at age 13), okay to go to college, okay to aspire to all the things that most of my friends did not----a college degree, a career, an independent life.

It didn’t occur to me then that there was anything I could not be. Jo March, thanks to Louisa May Alcott, our Unitarian foremother, had demonstrated that there wasn’t “women’s” or “men’s” work, per se. It was all just work and needed to be done.

After college graduation, however, my feminist awareness began to develop, when I decided not to go to theological school like many of my college friends, because all that women were trained to do in seminary was to become religious educators, and that looked like glorified Sunday School teacher to me. I couldn’t yet envision myself in a pulpit, doing what my dad did, and anyhow, it wasn’t proper for women to become ministers --was it?

Since then, of course, women, particularly in liberal denominations like ours, have become strong ministers and skilled professional religious educators. But it hasn’t always been that way.

The Bible, probably the best known of religious texts today, is notable in its lack of strong female figures. Except for wives and concubines and widows and harlots, there are almost no women described in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

A few female characters lurk in between the lines or in the Apocrypha or non-canonical books of the Bible and careful scholarship has amplified their presence:

Some of them are Deborah, a Hebrew judge and military leader; Judith, who killed an enemy intruder; Zipporah, who used magic to save her husband and son; Mary of Magdala, whose devotion to Jesus earned her respect as a disciple; Mary the mother of Jesus, whose legend has superseded her actual life on earth.

But most of the women in the Bible have gained their place in history because of their husbands or their owners or their sons---------or their immorality. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, and Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, were the mothers of the two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, from whose lines the ancient religions of Judaism and Islam may be traced; Jezebel, pagan princess and wife of King Ahab, whose sexual and murderous exploits enliven the pages of the books of First and Second Kings in the Old Testament; Delilah, who stole the strength of Samson, legendary strong man of Israel.

The list goes on, naming women as temptresses, as manipulators, seductresses, whores, and worse. Even in the well-known stories of Esther and Ruth, Israelite women who survived by their wits and their female charms, it’s hard to tell whether the authors of the Hebrew books of Ruth and Esther are championing their survival skills or pitying them their tenuous positions.

And, of course, it all started with Eve, upon whose ancient shoulders rests the assumption that women are not trustworthy, that they seduce and then betray men, that they are the reason why the human race struggles with evil.

The sexual attraction of males to females in the biological process of reproduction has been used to overpower and control women and to justify rape, slavery, and other oppressive behaviors toward females. This seems clear in the early centuries of monotheistic religious belief.

Of course, not all of religious history is found in the Bible. In the ancient pre-patriarchal world, the Divine was found in the image and work of the Great Goddess, who gave birth to all of creation.

For thousands of years, humans paid homage to a divine mother, but over the centuries, for a variety of reasons, the male consort of the Great Goddess became more powerful and eventually took her place as chief deity. And, of course, polytheism, which was standard practice in those ancient times, has since been portrayed as less worthy than monotheism.

Let me skip ahead now to women’s place in modern religious history, particularly in the United States, where women from the earliest years of American colonial life began to question the cultural order.

Particularly notable was Anne Hutchinson, who felt a religious calling and held Bible study classes for both men and women in colonial Massachusetts in the mid-17th century. Her teaching put her afoul of Puritan rules against women teaching men and she was condemned by her Puritan church and forced to move to Rhode Island, where a haven for dissenters began to grow.

Many women in 17th century America were accused and convicted of witchcraft, for their insights and rebellion against accepted religious practice, which did not allow for women’s ways of knowing.

Any woman who challenged male authority and traditional roles was in danger of being accused of witchcraft, tried, and even executed by the authorities. The portrait of a Good Woman in those days displayed her as necessarily pious but confined in her practice to her home and family.

But this wasn’t enough for many women, and though the threat of false accusations persisted into the 19th century and beyond, women became active in many social causes and in rebellion against the strictures of Good Womanhood.

Such heroines of early American history, in addition to Louisa May Alcott, include Margaret Fuller, one of our Transcendentalist foremothers, Susan B. Anthony, suffragist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, author of The Women’s Bible, Jane Addams, early social worker, Dorothea Dix, mental health advocate, and many, many others.

Slowly the tide of American life began to turn, and with the turning of the tide, came new ways of thinking about religion and about ministry. Women’s presence in religious and sociopolitical life has radically changed approaches to both theology and social service, as well as ministry.

The wisdom of women was for centuries isolated in the home and in a narrow band of service activities, while men’s wisdom and knowledge became dominant. But human living belongs to both women and men. Human life is not fully effective unless both male and female wisdom are present throughout the entire range of human activity. Each brings distinctive contributions to human life.

But what is women’s wisdom, and how does it play out in human living? What does it mean, when women are excluded?

The wisdom of women brings together the experience of the body to the experience of the mind, to combine intuition and reason, feeling and intellect, intimacy and detachment, subjective knowledge to objective knowledge.

When these functions are separated, when only the right brain or the left brain is operative at a time, the human world is incomplete, powered by inadequate systems, lopsided in its morality and generativity.

Human existence is a mutual dependence on a diversity of components. When men centered on themselves and their own ways of knowing, leaving out what women know, the home, the family, in fact, the entire human enterprise on earth was degraded. We did not know this, as a culture, until feminism first began to flower.

We did not realize the damage done to the earth and to the human community when women were considered to exist only for the purposes of men. But by claiming their place in every aspect of the social and cultural life of the human community, women have changed the way the world works, changed attitudes and approaches to social problems, offered a perspective of empathy and nurture which contrasts sharply with the authoritarian perspective of more patriarchal systems.

And women of color have added their own womanist and liberationist outlook to modern systems of social and religious thought, for their experience has been even more circumscribed by patriarchy than that of white women.

In our own religious tradition, Unitarian Universalism---and before that, the separate Unitarian and Universalist strands of our history--women have carved out their place as laywomen and, gradually, as clergywomen.

On June 25, 1863, the Rev. Olympia Brown was ordained, as the first Universalist female minister. Slowly, slowly, with many setbacks and disappointments, women’s place in the UU ministry became more accepted, until today over half of the UU ministry students in seminaries all over the continent are female.

With a growing cadre of female colleagues, male UU ministers found their old collegiality changing to accommodate women who would not tolerate the authoritarian, good-ole-boy ways of relating to each other.

WIth more women studying for the ministry, more laywomen hungry to find a spirituality more suited to women’s experience, and more female professors in theological schools, theology--both for UUs and in mainline Christianity and Judaism--began to shift from a hierarchical view of the Universe (with God on top and humans on the bottom, struggling to dominate the earth) to an understanding of the interdependence of all life.

Women’s ways of thinking and knowing have focussed UU theology, at least, more on LIfe than on death and its consequences. Shared ritual has taken on greater significance in our congregations. Our newer hymnals reflect gender-neutral wording; our congregations are rarely the domain of a solitary male minister. More often, congregants and ministers share the pulpit, share the ritual, share the experience of offering worship.

My colleague, the Rev. Ken Collier, has written: “In 1977, General Assembly passed a resolution entitled “Women and Religion” that has served as the basis for an enormous amount of action and change with UUism. This resolution called for two things: .......
(Ist) For all UUs to examine their own religious beliefs and the extent to which these beliefs influence sex-role stereotypes within their own families, and, (2nd) it urged religious leaders at every level of our movement to...put traditional assumptions and language into perspective and to avoid sexist assumptions and language in the future....”

Rev. Collier notes that before women ministers began to serve in greater numbers, the minister in a congregation was often seen as a father figure, the Daddy who took care of the congregation, though, of course, this was not overtly acknowledged.

He states that “we were evolving a different model of ministry and collegiality, a model that valued mutual relationship above power... We insisted on a different model of power which held that genuine power was not the power to determine but the power to embrace, not power over others but power shared with others....

He goes on, “And the model of power as a shared commodity has allowed us to bring to the movement the idea of ministry as a work shared among the entire membership of the church... no longer seen as something that is done to (or for) people, who receive it as passive consumers, rather as something that people engage in together.”

When I look at what has happened in the past twenty years, as women have claimed their place in American culture, in religious life, and in the calling of ministry, I believe that profound changes in attitude and understandings have evolved because of feminist attitudes and approaches to human life.

I believe that, though there have always been men who were uncomfortable with authoritarian and patriarchal attitudes and approaches and have offered a more empathetic perspective, it has been the emergence of feminism, empowering women, that has resulted in a fusion of spirituality and social justice that reminds me of the successes of the civil rights movement and its non-violent philosophical core.

Women are bringing to human life a new feminine paradigm based on tolerance, mutuality, and reverence for nature, values seen as crucial to ending poverty and violence.

Author Pythia Peay calls it Feminism’s Fourth Wave, pointing out that first-wave feminists fought for women’s suffrage; a second wave, led by Gloria Steinem and others, pushed for economic and legal gains. A third wave advocated spirited individualism------girlie culture and women’s rights.

But today’s conservative political environment has united women across the feminist spectrum, espousing a new social activism based in joy, not anger, and drawing on feminism’s inherent spirituality. According to author Carol Lee Flinders, “When you get Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, and Sufi women all practicing their faith in the same room, another religion emerges, which is feminine spirituality.”

I have often described Unitarian Universalism in much that same way, that we are doing religion in a new way, bringing together people of like-mind under the umbrella of caring for one another and the earth, rather than shared doctrine.

Unitarian Universalism, recognizing the preciousness of each life, the value of freedom and reason and tolerance, understanding that both males and females bring essential experience to the human community, and the interdependence of all life, is a new kind of religion.

I believe that feminism, in all its aspects including womanist and liberationist philosophies, has changed not only the face of religious faith but its practice as well, and that Unitarian Universalism has been in the forefront of this movement for over a century.

I believe that, had not feminism begun to rise across the globe, we would not be having the kinds of social struggles we are having now. We would not yet have realized how important it is to give all human beings,even sexual minorities, equal rights.

We would not have fully understood the terrible consequences of war; we would not have had the courage to say no to a thousand oppressions which degrade human life; and we would not have made the kind of progress in cultural understanding and civil freedom that we have today.

Yet with progress comes conflict, and conflict makes us question the value of our work. Some days it takes all we have to say “yes, it is worth it. It is worth the struggle, worth the setbacks, worth the agonizing, for we are birthing a new way of living, a way which ultimately will save humankind. This new way calls upon both men and women to offer their wisdom and their knowledge and their strength, honoring each other, supporting and caring for the world’s peoples, and uniting in love and justice to cherish and sustain the earth, our common home.

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that whether we are male or female, we have a great deal to offer---to ourselves, to each other, and to the Universe. May we listen to each other, learn from each other, and offer to each other the joy and justice that feminism has taught us to value. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Letter to the Editor of the South Whidbey Record

Sent today, March 14, 2009, in response to a letter published this morning advocating abstinence-only sex ed for our teens after the local Youth Connection agency announced it would be giving out condoms and safe sex information at The Hub, an after-school center for youth here on Whidbey Island.

To the Editor:
While I sympathize with Judith Lamontagne's concern for our teens' sexual health, I do not agree that abstinence-only sex education programs are very helpful in teaching teens to respect their own bodies and their sexual nature. In fact, during the past 8 years when only abstinence-only sex ed has received federal funding, the rates of teen pregnancy and STD's have not fallen; rather, they have risen and sex educators nationwide have acknowledged that abstinence-only programs are generally unsuccessful in this regard. Teens do not respond well to scare tactics.

I applaud The Hub and Planned Parenthood for making condoms and safe sex information available to our teens, even though I would prefer that young men and women postpone sexual relationships until they are mature enough to accept the responsibility that accompanies sexual relationships. The statistics show that teens who receive only abstinence-only sex education are even more likely to have early, unprotected sexual relationships.

Our congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island, will offer, later this year, a comprehensive sex education program called "Our Whole Lives", geared to young adolescents and offering not only information about pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted disease but also accurate, supportive information about homosexuality and other sexual identity issues. This course has been developed jointly by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ and has been successfully taught for several years across the U.S. and Canada. For more information, parents may call the church office at 321-8656.

Inappropriate sexual behavior among our teens is definitely a matter for concern and needs to be taken seriously. However, abstinence-only education is not a good answer.

Rev. Kit Ketcham

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In the wee small hours of the morning...

Max finally came home. I had let him out first thing in the morning, he walked me down to the newspaper tube and then disappeared into the woods. It was a very chilly morning, so cold I'd turned on the lightbulb in the pump house to keep the pump from freezing, and his normal habit on such a morning is to reappear for a snack and a warm-up about mid morning.

Yesterday he didn't show up in the morning but I wasn't too worried and assumed he would be home when I got home from my afternoon rehearsal. But he wasn't. So I ate supper, went off to my meeting at 7, hoping he would be home by 9, when I'd be back myself. But he wasn't.

I turned the porch light on so I could see him if he showed up on the deck and delayed going to bed, reasoning that he surely would be home soon. When 10 p.m. rolled around, I got to worrying.

Tuesday, I'd noticed that there were rabbit remnants on the lawn fairly far from the house, but they looked more like the work of a larger animal than Max the Murderous. All that remained of the rabbit was scraps of fur and a glop of entrails. Coyote or eagle, I figured, not Max.

And then he didn't come home Wednesday night. While I lay awake, listening for his soft mew at the window (for a murderer, he surely has a tiny voice), I went over in my mind how it would be if he never came home again. And I have to say that I was torn between relief that there would be no more puddles on the bed and the terror that he might have suffered some dreadful fate. My prayer in the middle of the night was "please, God, bring him home soon OR let him die painlessly".

At three a.m., there was a tiny pat on the window. Luckily I had been awake since 2 a.m., watching the clock and worrying, so when the pat came (no mew, unless my virus-stuffed ears didn't pick it up), I turned toward the window, saw a faint white blur, and rushed to open it up. No apologies, no explanations, just a blithe saunter through the window and onto the bed, where I scooped him up, he purred madly against my shoulder, and then we went out to the kitchen where I groggily spooned out a can of catfood for him and then went back to bed.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Capital Punishment may be a "casualty" of economics.

As I scan the headlines and read the few stories that are not deeply depressing, I am beginning to think that it's possible that what many are now calling a Depression, not just a recession, may actually be our salvation.

The realization began to dawn when I saw an article in the Seattle paper about Capital Punishment, about which I have grave concerns. It appears that many states, mine among them, are considering doing away with Capital Punishment because of its immense financial costs. It's far more expensive than life imprisonment and, in these strapped times, states have to watch every penny. How wonderful it would be if Capital Punishment were scrapped because of how expensive it is! Of course, it would be more wonderful if states abolished it because it's wrong, but no matter how it happens, I would be glad.

I have many reasons for opposing Capital Punishment, not the least of which is its vengefulness. I just think it makes far better sense to let a capital criminal spend the rest of his/her life behind bars where s/he can consider the consequences of his/her crime, rather than be let off the hook by death. There is also the possibility that s/he will be proven innocent and there are some incredible tales about how this has happened (or not happened) in a number of incidents.

Washington is scheduled to put a criminal to death on Friday. I haven't done anything to protest this action nor have I seen anything in religious circles that any kind of protest is planned. But I feel hopeful that perhaps this will be the last in this state. It looks as if the guy is guilty; he's been through every appeal and is likely to die on Friday.

I'm sorry to feel so preoccupied by other concerns that his execution has not taken on greater significance for me and others. His was a heinous crime, the rape and murder of a young woman in the 80's. But I would rather he lived to regret his crime, to reflect on the life he took, to agonize over what he might have done differently. That seems like more of a punishment than to distract him from that reflection for years by teasing him with appeals and stays of execution.

If he lived, he might come to some kind of redemption, some kind of realization of what life can be like. But that possibility has been short-circuited by the years he has spent fighting his execution. I also wonder about the effect execution has on the executioners who prepare the man for his death and administer the injections that will kill him. I understand that the responsibility for the death is distributed among many, so that no one person feels the whole brunt of the act, but I wonder what it is like to be an executioner. What a terrible task to be paid to perform!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A UU Trilogy: Justice, Equity and Compassion

Rev. Kit Ketcham, March 8, 2009

Wanna sing a subversive song with me? "This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me."

Woody Guthrie, who wrote this familiar song, was a man of the people. He was no ivory-tower celebrity who spent millions on good causes by writing checks to large foundations. He was just a poor man who traveled far and wide to find work so that he could support his family during the Depression.

And though he was not a Unitarian like his pal Pete Seeger, he really had a handle on our Second Principle: that we affirm and promote Justice, Equity, and Compassion in Human Relations. He supported unions at a time when there was terrible violence against those who would organize working people. He refused to sing for soldiers unless all were permitted to attend the performance in a time when the Armed Forces were segregated.

In 1938, Irving Berlin wrote "God Bless America" and Kate Smith made it famous, but Woody thought the song had it all wrong. There was no soul searching there, just blind patriotism expressed by the song, however beautiful and melodic it was, and he detected a refusal to look at what needed correcting in this country. So he sat down to write a song about what being an American meant to him and "This Land is Your Land" came into being.

Because this song was written by a man who was beaten and had his guitar busted over his head for sticking up for labor rights, it has special meaning and is not just a catchy tune, a fun song to sing.

When Woody wrote my favorite verse: "As I was walkin I saw a sign there and that sign said private property, but on the other side, it didn't say nothin', that side was made for you and me." he was expressing his sense that America was divided into the haves and the have nots and that this was not his idea of justice, equity, and compassion.

He also wrote this verse, which was not allowed on the airwaves for a time: "In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple, near the relief office I see my people, and some are grumblin' and some are wonderin' if this land's still made for you and me."

Being wealthy didn't make America a good nation, in Woody's view. Being prosperous didn't mean much if you didn't share what you had, if you didn't try to help the little guy better his or her life. This song didn't make a lot of people happy, but Woody didn't do it for them. He did it for the ones who were beaten down by a system that refused them entrance; he wanted America to be their land too.

John Steinbeck once said "Woody is just Woody. Thousands of people don't know he has any other name. He is just a voice and a guitar. He sings the songs of a people and he is, in a way, that people. Harsh-voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who still listen. There is the will of a people to endure and fight oppression. I think we call this the American spirit."

In these days, we are all worried about our bottom line, we are all wondering what will happen next in the fluctuations of the housing market, the financial institutions, prices at the grocery store, we are more and more on a playing field that has been leveled by common financial disaster. We are more and more challenged to make do with what we've got.

In the headlines and on the front pages, we see the downfall of institutions which did not offer true justice, did not treat people equitably, did not consider compassion something valuable. In the eight years of our former administration, we saw public leaders debased, shamed, and ejected for their ethical lapses. We saw wealthy CEOs scrambling to "get theirs" as financial institutions collapsed around them, as ordinary people lost their savings, as hard workers lost their jobs.

We have seen firsthand in these days what it means when justice, equity and compassion are lacking in a nation. And I hope we will see what it means when justice, equity, and compassion are the bedrock on which our nation operates.

I sometimes jump to conclusions about what words really mean---and I'm sometimes wrong---so I consulted a good dictionary for definitions of each of these words and was struck by what I learned.

Justice is, in a word or two, the existence of a proper balance in making judgments, hence the blindfolded figure with her scales held forth, illustrating that justice cares only for balance, that two (or more) qualities or items or outcomes or groups are equal to each other.

But I also wondered how better minds than mine have seen the quality of justice. Let's hear some quotes from some well-known people, regarding the concept of justice. (quotes followed--see later post)

As we flesh out what justice means for real human beings, particularly those who look at the world through a larger lens that we can, we see that it can have connections to the collective conscience, as seen by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, to class differences in the eyes of Albert Einstein, to liberty according to Clarence Darrow, to identity with a community as seen by Elie Wiesel, to personal integrity in the eyes of Eugene Debs, and to the establishment of true peace according to the Dalai Lama.

We ourselves sort through the events of our own daily lives and weigh them on the scale of justice. Is it just to have a reservation system for the ferry? Is it fair to close certain schools and not others, as Seattle is debating? Do our news media report the news in a fair and balanced way? Did the referee make a fair call when she declared a runner out on first base in a close play?

Sometimes the justice of a decision can't be seen immediately. Sometimes we never see the justice of a decision or have to rely on others' reports to be assured that an outcome was fairly derived.

We get frustrated with both injustice and delayed justice and the Buddhist/Hindu idea of "karma", or that a person's good or evil deeds will have consequences later, often doesn't satisfy a Westerner's sense of right and wrong nor dampen the desire for vengeance.

Injustice inevitably has the outcome of resentment, anger, rebellion, and even violence. We see this happening every day; terrorists, for example, choose a violent and murderous path in response to perceived injustices by others. A pattern of violence tends to become endemic if injustice is not reversed so that justice prevails.

And what of equity? Equity is often used interchangeably with the term equality and yet equity actually refers to evenhanded treatment under the law. Equity was at stake when women asked for equal pay for equal work. Equity was at stake when a man of color was picked up for speeding when a white man was not.

And equity is at stake in this little rhyme, which you may remember:
"The rain, it raineth all about, upon the just and unjust fella,
But more upon the just because the unjust has the just's umbrella."

Let's hear what some great minds have had to say about equity. (quotes)

In these observations we hear a number of cogent applications of the concept of equity. There is the acknowledgment by DH Lawrence of equity's timelessness, that the day and age don't matter to the principles of ethics and justice, that equity does not change with the calendar.
Confucius skewered the small-minded person for going after profits rather than equitable treatment. Edmund Burke thought of equity as being part of the law of nature, steadfast and unchanging and equal in its application to all. Roger L'estrange condemned those laws which legalize and institutionalize inequity, even though he was not a particularly equitable person himself according to history. And Ambedkar pointed out the ties between equity and equality, as a fundamental reason for equal treatment.

So it would seem that justice and equity can be defined in fairly concrete terms, that there is little wiggle room in the application of justice and equity under the law, that no matter what, the law must be equally applied to all regardless of circumstance or handicap or age.

A developmentally delayed man is convicted of first degree murder and is sentenced to death. A woman who shoots and injures her abusive spouse is sentenced to 20 years in prison. A child who bullies other children after having been beaten up himself by an abusive father is expelled from school.

Wait a minute----something twitches in me when I learn about these kinds of scenarios and I'll bet it twitches in you too.

Yes, wrongdoing must be punished. Killing or injuring or abusing another person is wrong and deserves equal treatment under the law. But the man is developmentally delayed, perhaps even mentally ill. The woman lashed out in self-defense or retaliation after years of violence against her and her children. The child bully has been bullied all his life by his father.

What twitches in us at that moment, when we wonder if justice and equity are really unchanging, is our conscience, our inborn empathy and compassion for another's pain and the understanding that comes from knowing another's life story.

Oh boy, that muddies the picture, doesn't it?

Let's hear some observations about compassion from some well known people: (hear quotes)

Powerful thoughts from powerful thinkers and challenging to the rationality of the ideas of pure justice and pure equity.

My colleague the Rev. Martha Nussbaum, formerly a professor of philosophy, a prominent lecturer at the University of Chicago's Law School and connected with the World Institute for Development Economics Research, once wrote a small book entitled "Poetic Justice", in which she calls attention to the lack of adequate attention to the real life circumstances of human beings, as taught in law school.

In fact, I asked lawyer friends how much they'd learned about compassion in law school and the answer was "NOTHING". In fact, an old friend, Tom Gray, who went as far as to pass the bar but never practiced law, wrote: "One of the major memorable things I took away from law school is that the law is not about figuring out what is the RIGHT thing to do, but about knowing how close you can get to the edge of what is wrong without being illegal."

The study of law tends to disregard and discount human emotion and the complex social structures that are part of human life. Economics, particularly, is devoid of real life models, yet utilitarian economics tends to dominate public policy and legal decision making.

Nussbaum's suggestion in "Poetic Justice" is that those training to make critical legal decisions about others' lives need to read more novels!

I like that idea! And she goes on to flesh out her theory by highlighting the themes of classic literary novels in which real human living with all of its challenges is laid out in both its bleak and joyous moments. Dickens, Steinbeck, O'Connor, Austen, Conroy, the list of names is endless of those authors who have chronicled the human condition and from whom judges might learn.

One of the most powerful literary conversations in my memory hit me between the eyes when I was reading the Tolkien trilogy of novels entitled "The Lord of The Rings". Granted, this is not exactly real human living, but hobbits seem to have many human characteristics!

You may recall the story line, that the hobbit Frodo has come into possession of the Ring of Power and is on his way to cast it into the Crack of Doom and save MiddleEarth from destruction. But the creature Gollum, horribly deformed by his love of the Ring and determined to get it back from Frodo, pursues him and his companions, threatening them and making their trip even more hazardous.

Gandalf the Wizard is with Frodo when Frodo is most angry and fearful about this impossible journey. Here is that conversation.

'But this is terrible!' cried Frodo. 'Far worse than the worst that I
imagined from your hints and warnings. O Gandalf, best of friends, what am I to do? For now I am really afraid. What am I to do? What a pity that
Bilbo did not stab that vile creature, when he had a chance!'

'Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike
without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that(Bilbo) took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his
ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.'

I am sorry,' said Frodo. 'But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity
for Gollum.'

'You have not seen him,' Gandalf broke in.

'No, and I don't want to,' said Frodo. 'I can't understand you. Do you
mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those
horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy.
He deserves death.'

'Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some
that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager
to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all
ends. I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but
there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My
heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before
the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many
- yours not least.'

Pity……. Mercy……. Compassion, a profound emotion prompted by the pain of others and a desire not to cause further pain, but to alleviate that pain, if possible. Compassion is at the root of human efforts to reach out to those in pain. Compassion tempers the stringencies of justice and equity. Compassion is the source of the Golden Rule, which is the foundation of all the world's major religious traditions.

Compassion is why we strive for marriage equality for all couples, because we can't help but see the pain caused when a loving family is denied recognition and justice. Compassion is why we reach out to the homeless, because we can't bear the thought that children are living in tents in the woods here on Whidbey. Compassion is why we work to find ways of reaching our returning veterans, many of whom are in terrible pain because of what their country has asked them to do.

Compassion is why we bring our food stuffs and paper goods to the food bank Good Cheer. Compassion is why we take stands against torture and religious persecution. Compassion is why we donate our money to support charities like Habitat and Hearts and Hammers and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and flood relief and the list goes on: Darfur, Sudan, Tibet, Iraqi civilians.

We cannot be immune to human suffering. In these hard times, when we may be struggling ourselves, financially and worried about the world's economy, we may find that reaching out to others who are in worse need gives us the strength to be optimistic even in the face of hard times. We are all part of the interdependent web; we can lean on each other and by doing so, provide support for others.

Let me close with these words, written when I was a member of the Caring Committee of Jefferson Unitarian Church, in Golden, Colorado. I think they apply to us here today as well:
"We (are) a church where each member is a minister and with each smile, each kindness, each word of encouragement, every offer of help, every hug and touch, every moment spent listening to another, we knit up the rips and tears in the interdependent web and bring each other closer to spiritual wholeness."

Let's pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that while we work for justice and equity in our land, we must also offer compassion for those who are in pain, no matter which side of the law they are on. May we do what we can to ease each other's pain in this human life and may we find the many rewards of living with justice, equity and compassion. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.

Albert Einstein:

I regard class differences as contrary to justice and, in the last resort, based on force.

Clarence Darrow:

You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man's freedom. You can only be free if I am free.

Elie Wiesel:

This is the duty of our generation as we enter the twenty-first century -- solidarity with the weak, the persecuted, the lonely, the sick, and those in despair. It is expressed by the desire to give a noble and humanizing meaning to a community in which all members will define themselves not by their own identity but by that of others.

Eugene V. Debs:

Yes, I am my brother's keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death.

the Dalai Lama:

Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.

“Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar.”
D.H. Lawrence

"Of all injustice, that is the greatest which goes under the name of law; and of all sorts of tyranny the forcing of the letter of the law against the equity, is the most insupportable”
Roger L'Estrange

“There is but one law for all, namely, that law which governs all law, the law of our Creator, the law of humanity, justice, equity - the law of nature, and of nations.”
Edmund Burke

“The proper man understands equity, the small man profits.”

“Justice has always evoked ideas of equality, of proportion of compensation. Equity signifies equality. Rules and regulations, right and righteousness are concerned with equality in value. If all men are equal, then all men are of the same essence, and the common essence entitles them of the same fundamental rights and equal liberty... In short justice is another name of liberty, equality and fraternity.”
B. R. Ambedkar (Indian Politician and founder Of the Indian Constitution.)

Barack Obama:
You know, there's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit -- the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us -- the child who's hungry, the steelworker who's been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this -- when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers -- it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.

Arnold Schopenhauer:
Compassion is the basis of morality.

George Washington Carver:
How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.

the Dalai Lama:
Compassion is the radicalism of our time. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Welcome, California Girl in Massachusetts!

Please welcome my colleague and friend the Rev. Dorothy Emerson to the blogosphere. I hope you'll visit and make her welcome, read her posts and give her lots of good feedback. She's a terrific, talented, loving minister with many credits to her name in the UU realm.

She's blogging at California Girl in Massachusetts.

Check her out!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Flogging for Blogging

(NOTE: I changed the title of this post once I found the definition of "flogging" that didn't involve bodily pain. It's British vernacular, meaning "selling", but I wasn't sure until I found it in an online dictionary. Don't you love unusual meanings of ordinary words? I do.)

On the ministers' chat lately there has been a thread of commentary about blogging and whether or not it is worthwhile as a medium for communicating our faith, our congregational events, our lives, that sort of thing. It was spurred by the question of a colleague who asked whether any of us blogged and whether we found it helpful or meaningful in our professional and personal lives.

It was interesting to me to read the responses of non-blogging colleagues; they were mostly negative. Some had had experience with blogging and had not kept it up, for a variety of reasons. Others who had not blogged were, nevertheless, negative. Maybe not insultingly so, but brushing off the medium of blogging as either irrelevant or too opinionated to be helpful.

Those of us who maintain blogs and have done so for awhile were very positive about our experiences as bloggers. Among those in favor were James Ford of Monkey Mind and Christine Robinson of iMinister, both blogs I read regularly and whose comradeship I appreciate. Their blogs are quite different from mine, both in frequency and in content. I like to think we each fill a niche.

When Kari of Chalice Spark and I decided we'd offer a workshop at our recent district Annual Meeting, we were surprised and pleased by the large turnout we had for what we thought might be a relatively minor contribution to the panoply of workshops. But we had over thirty people attend, some of whom had already started the process of blogging, either for personal use or congregational events, but several of whom had no experience at all with the mechanics of the internet.

I know that many folks are intimidated by the technology of recent years which has made blogs so popular, along with social networks like Facebook (yes, I'm now addicted to Facebook!) and MySpace, Twitters, and the like. And it's true that there is so much out there that it can be overwhelming. It can be hard, as well, to separate the good from the bad media.

But what I think I like about blogging is that it gives me an outlet for thoughts that I might not feel like putting in a sermon or other congregational space. It's a source of friends and others' wisdom. It's a way to keep in touch with people I rarely see. It's a way to provoke and participate in a deeper conversation.

I learn a lot from those who comment, even the snarky ones. I have control over what is published in the comments, which helps to focus the conversation. I have the opportunity to encourage topical comments, even when they're not particularly pleasant. I feel as though I am fostering UU openness and diversity in a small way.

It will be interesting to see how today's media and networking technologies morph over the coming years.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Good DRE Hunting

A few weeks ago, our wonderful Director of Religious Education let us know that she and her family would be moving out of state by April 1. She has been with us for three years and has absolutely transformed our Religious Education program--partly by enrolling her own daughter, a few grandkids, and enlisting the help of another friend as a teacher, who brought her own two children. When we dedicated kids that first year, we dedicated a horde of youngsters who were brought in by Lorie.

But she's been a dynamo with RE, even though she was not familiar with UUism at first and had a lot to learn. Under her direction, we've doubled the size of our program, our enrollment, and the interest of our congregation in RE!

So how do we replace her? This is the first time our congregation has done a real search for a DRE. When we found Lorie, it was more word of mouth than anything. She just appeared in the radar of the RE chair and was hired, just like that. But we're better organized now, we have a larger RE committee of parents and non-parents, and when we put an ad in the paper for a "liberal religious education director", we got several good applicants.

NOTE: a friendly congregant who reads this blog updated me on the extensive work that was done in hiring Lorie, work which I didn't fully see because my hours and time on the island were different at that time. Sorry for that oversight. It just looked like magic to me!

We've now interviewed and are leaning toward one candidate, though we haven't offered that person anything yet. But it's been an opportunity to assess what we want in our RE program, what we want RE to mean in the life of the congregation.

My personal view is that Religious Education is essential in a strong UU congregation. Our children need to know what their religious roots are, what our beliefs are, what we think about important religious concepts like a relationship with God, with Jesus, with other religious thinking.

It simply isn't true that if you're a UU you can believe anything you want! Since our beliefs shape our behavior and we ask certain behavior of our members, people tend to believe the same things, with variations. And we want our kids to be able to think through those behaviors and beliefs and own them, not just repeat them ritualistically. We want them to be able to answer their playground friends who may ask "do you believe in God?", "what do you believe about Jesus? or Mary or Buddha?", "are you saved?".

We give our kids time to work these things out themselves, through story, through wonderment, through conversation. We accept them as real people, with their own thoughts and ideas and preferences. We don't mind if they question what we tell them. But we do require that they treat others and the earth with respect and fairness.

The Favorite Son will doubtless have his own take on his RE upbringing, but I am convinced that the RE program at our home church in Colorado saved his bacon---and mine. Gosh, he was a rowdy kid, not a bad kid, just a small boy whose parents had divorced and who was too bright and too mouthy for his own good. He made a lot of parents uneasy; we were even kicked out of our "extended family" group because the two daughters of another family didn't like him. That still stings, but it's another story.

When the FS was in middle school, JUC offered what was then called AYS or "About Your Sexuality". Our current program is called OWL, "Our Whole Lives" and is a sexuality education course developed jointly by the UUA and the United Church of Christ. It's powerful stuff, and it's offered at various age levels.

The FS took it at about age 14 and that was a critical year for him. During that rough year of adolescence, he transitioned from being a kid who either alienated other kids by his behavior or enlisted them into his antics into a young man who cared about other people, who could take responsibility for his behavior, who could make amends for mistakes, who could tailor his behavior to meet the needs of most circumstances. It was a wonderful thing.

Throughout the years of his growing up, the church's RE program supported him (and his dad and me) steadily. The DRE during those years at JUC never gave up on him, nor did other adults who worked with the kids. They knew he was worth hanging onto and they loved him.

That's what I want for all our children, a place at church where they are loved and valued and given the chance to bloom, to be who they are in their heart of hearts. That's what every child needs and what many churches don't provide. I want our kids to know what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist, how UUs live our lives, how we behave toward each other, how we respect ourselves and each other, and how we treat the earth.

So our new DRE, whoever that person may turn out to be, has a huge responsibility. But I know it will turn out well. There are some wonderful DREs nearby who will give all the help that person needs. Thanks to Kari and Kathy and Cathy, especially!